After housing and transportation, food is typically the third-largest expense for many American families. A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans spend an average of $151 a week on food ($7,852 a year).
One of one of the fastest and easiest ways to reduce your food bill is by removing one of the most expensive ingredients from your meals: meat.
Meat (particularly red meat) is a pricey addition to your meals. You don’t have to turn into a full-blown vegetarian. Adopting a more vegetarian diet, sometimes known as flexitarian or semi-vegetarian, can still yield substantial savings and potentially improve your health.
The numbers make sense. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nationwide average price for ground beef is $4.23 a pound. USDA sirloin steak costs $8.19 a pound. Boneless ham costs $4.42 a pound, and chicken breast is $3.51 a pound. In contrast, dried beans cost only $1.48 a pound, and large eggs are $2.08 a dozen.
Here are six ideas and tips for creating vegetarian-based meals and snacks that cost $1 to $2 a meal. Plus, these recipes are easy-to-make, even on a busy schedule, which means that creating healthy and cheap meals could becomeyour next great habit.
1. Incorporate More Beans
One pound of dried black beans costs around $1.50 at the grocery store, and that’s enough to make one week’s worth of meals for one person. Cook beans in bulk over a weekend and eat it throughout the rest of the week. You won’t have to spend much time cooking, and your total meal costs will come to as little as $1 to $2 a meal.
You can use black beans to make tacos, burritos, quesadillas or veggie and black bean bowls. You can also garnish with cheese and salsa as you’d like. If you’re not a fan of black beans, substitute pinto beans or combine the two for added flavor combinations.
2. Make Your Own Hummus
One pound of dried chickpeas also costs about $1.50. Soak these overnight, cook them, and then combine with salt, lemon juice, garlic and tahini. You can use a blender or a food processor to make your own hummus. It’s surprisingly simple to make.
Rather than pay $5 at the grocery store for a tiny container of hummus, you can produce nearly half a gallon of hummus for only $2 to $3. As with the beans, you can add additional flavoring. I like to add hot peppers into mine.
You can even use this as a dip to eat raw vegetables or crackers. If you’re busy at work, hummus and veggies or pita chips also make for a great snack to munch on while you’re sitting at your desk. Once again, your total cost per meal can be as little as $1 to $2.
3. Substitute Eggs in Place of Meats
Making a stir-fry? Rather than pay top dollar for beef or pork, stir-fry your veggies with eggs instead. This creates a nice flavor and texture that complements the meal.
The cost of eggs pales in comparison to most meats. This holds true even if you buy free-range eggs.
4. Take Inspiration from the Europeans
French lentils can also be purchased in bulk for less than $1 a pound. These can be thrown into a crockery cooker to make a delicious lentil soup. If you want, you can eat it French-style with vegetables and a baguette.
If you’re looking for something a little heartier, combine light beans, great northern beans and kidney beans to create a winter stew. Shop your pantry for other ingredients — you might be surprised at what you find.
5. Evoke the Flavors of South Asia
When combined together, rice and lentils form a complete protein. This is a common meal in India and Nepal because it’s both cheap and healthy. I grew up eating this meal for dinner almost every night.
Both rice and lentils are two of the cheapest foods you can buy, particularly when you purchase dried varieties in bulk. Batch-cook enough for the entire week, put it in containers, and warm it up at work when you’re busy and need to eat on the go.
You can also flavor these with any type of spices or side garnishes that you prefer.
6. Load Up on Vegetables
Yes, certain vegetables can be expensive, but did you know that veggies are a great source of protein?
According to the USDA, one serving of broccoli contains 4.2 grams of protein, one medium potato has 4.3 grams of protein, and one cup of peas contains 8 grams of protein.
To save even more money, grow your own vegetables. They tend to taste better than what you can buy in the store.
If you don’t have time for gardening or if you don’t have any yard space, you can still save money. Shop at local farmers markets and only buy vegetables that are in season.
Bottom Line: Focus on Your Health
Finally, don’t forget where the ultimate savings comes from: health care.
Basing your diet around vegetables, fresh fruit, water and lean protein — such as beans, chickpeas, eggs and lentils — is a healthy choice. Ultimately, it results in greater savings in the form of lower health care costs.
To be clear, I’m not claiming all meat-based diets are unhealthy. You can create healthy meals with lean chicken and fish, both of which I enjoy eating on occasion.
However, chorizo, ground beef, ribs, steaks, bacon and other meat products are both expensive and high in saturated fats. If you stop consuming them often, you may find both your wallet and your waistline thanking you for making the switch.
Remember, you don’t need to adopt an inflexible, 100 percent strict vegetarian diet if you don’t want to. Start by adding just one or two vegetarian meals to your dinner rotation each week. If you enjoy it, you can then increase how often you eat vegetarian meals.